For already a while, southeast Asian hotspots like Chiang Mai (Thailand) or Bali (Indonesia) top list after list of the finest cities for remote workers. In a year with enormous economical and social changes, a new serious competitor rises. Going forward to my conclusion: right now, this is the best city for Digital Nomads and (some) expats! Forget Chiang Mai!.
But… Why some? Because this applies only if your income is not in the local currency.
How the Brazilian Ibiza, a favourite place of national celebrities, turned (very) affordable.
Florianópolis is a city with almost 500k inhabitants in the state of Santa Catarina. This state in the southern region of Brazil was called, for few occasions, the Brazilian Ibiza, for being the darling of South American upper-class youth.
Reasons like delightful beaches, pleasant climate and 3 of the best clubs in the planet (including the 1st place in the annual DJ Mag club ranking, Green Valley) contributed for the just comparison between Santa Catarina and the Mediterranean islands.
But how comparisons with an overpriced European island are useful for digital nomads looking for low living costs?
It is because Florianópolis is not overpriced anymore. At least if you earn in dollars!
There are two reasons for this city turning inexpensive in the last years. The chart below explains the first one better than I could:
Let’s imagine a good-located, beachfront 1-room apartment. In 2012, it had a monthly rent of 1400 reais. This is equivalent to 700 dollars. Due to its attractiveness, since 2012 real estate in Florianópolis inflated near 53%, so this apartment would cost now 2140 reais.
But since the real lost a ton of value in the last decade, this price is equivalent to only 430 dollars nowadays. For a beachfront apartment.
Not believing me? Just take a look at the properties available in Florianópolis at Airbnb and you may find even cheaper deals.
With the strong devaluation of the Brazilian currency in the last 10 years, the once pricey Ilha da Magia (Magic Island in Portuguese, one of the many nicknames for this place) have prices similar to cheap backpacking destinations in Asia.
The second reason that made the capital of Santa Catarina more affordable are the years of economic turmoil in the region. By region, I mean not only Brazil but also the neighbouring Argentina. In fact, not long ago, Argentinians drove to there in such considerable numbers that some places like Canasvieiras beach had restaurants with menus in Spanish instead of the Portuguese (many of them still have, although you can ask for one written in Portuguese or English).
The last time I stayed in that beach, the Uber driver told me:
Oh, you are going to the Argentinian enclave!
Today the numbers of tourists from Argentina and other neighbouring countries (Uruguay and Paraguay) are still significant, but not close to what they were in past decades.
So, are you telling me Brazil is a great place for Digital Nomads?
Definitely I am not telling you that.
Being a continental country, Brazil have immense contrasts, with the same order of magnitude someone can see in Europe between Portugal and Ukraine, for example.
Brazil has many problems. The most famous of them is violence. And in this point, the state of Santa Catarina is like an oasis.
While in 2019 Brazil had a homicide rate of 19.7 per 100 thousand people (a considerable reduction from the 32.4 of 2017), Santa Catarina have a rate of 2.8 per 100 thousand. This is a similar level to European countries like Hungary.
Other common problem of Brazil is the small share of English-Speaking population. This is a fair complaint. According to the British council only 5% of the Brazilians speak English. However, due to its touristic-driven economy, high-standards of life and level of education, in Florianópolis you will not find much problem to live without speaking Portuguese.
If you took our quiz of The best country to visit after the lockdown? and your result was Brazil, this is the kind of place you are meant to be.
Right, so going back to costs: The rent is cheap (in dollars) in Florianópolis, but what about the rest?
The comparison I made at the beginning of this post was not an accident. According to Expatistan (a great source for global prices), Chiang Mai and Florianópolis have virtually equal costs.
In the comparison jumps to the eyes how cheap are the food costs in Florianópolis. In fact, even though Brazilians complain that everything is expensive there, when they travel out, they realize how in fact grocery articles are more expensive worldwide. After all, you can buy a liter of milk in Brazil for less than 70 cents of a dollar.
The entertainment prices in Florianópolis may look expensive in the comparison above, but as you may remember from the beginning of this article, in the summer it turns into a party-island for jet-setters. However, cheaper alternatives exist in plentiful numbers.
A Caipirinha at the beach (exception for the overpriced Jurere beach) will cost around 10 reais, or 2 dollars. This is almost half of the price of other Brazilian touristic cities like Rio. Depending on the type of nomad you are, this will be more important than the lower milk prices.
Safe, inexpensive apartments and cheap drinks! I am almost convinced, but what can I do there in my free time?
1st – Beach hopping
Some people say Florianópolis have 42 beaches. Others put this number near 100. What you can be sure is that there are options for every taste. In the eastern side, surfers have an ideal playground at Mole and Joaquina beaches. In the North are popular beaches like Canasvieiras. Just at the side of Canasvieiras is Jurerê Internacional, with its beach huts called “paradores”, bars and nightclubs. Upper-class youth have sunset beach parties in clubs like P12 and Posh. In the south, fishing villages offer peace and typical cuisine, as well as empty spots like the beaches of Pântano do Sul and Ribeirão da Ilha.
In the summer, the tanned and good-shaped youth of the region flocks to its sunny beaches. Daily physical practice is almost a rule. Besides beach football and volleyball, there are two other sports whose practice have privileged conditions on the magical island. They are Surf and Sand board.
2nd – Party
This city once won the title of ‘Party Destination of the Year’ by The New York Times. In a 100 km radius you have three of the best clubs in the planet. Many other party places of the region could easily be in the same ranking.
3rd – Learn to Surf (or Sand board)
Florianópolis, or to be more specific, Joaquina Beach, have a unique characteristic: only few meters separate you from “surfing” sand dunes and sea waves. With instructors available, it is a perfect opportunity to learn both sports in a privileged scenario.
What about the local communities of digital nomads and expatriates in Florianopolis?
Maybe this is the single point where my comparison between Floripa and Chiang Mai favours the Thai city. The nomad community and the expat numbers are much greater in Chiang Mai, however they are quickly developing in the capital of Santa Catarina state.
One common type you will find there is the tourist-turned-a-resident. Being such an attractive place with remarkable quality of life and good-quality real estate, is not uncommon to find foreigners that bought apartments or villas to spend long periods on this magical island.
Conclusion – the best city for Digital Nomads and (some) expats is Floripa.
The city is booming with entrepreneurship, especially in technology. The IT gross product is nowadays bigger than tourism itself! The devaluated local currency, networking opportunities and good infrastructure make it a very promising destination for remote workers with dollarized income.
There is a crescent number of coworking spaces and cafés friendly to remote workers. You can check a map of them on the island here. In Facebook or Meetup it is possible to find a broad range of networking events and social occasions for expatriates and nomads. Examples are groups like Digital Nomads Floripa on Meetup or the Gringoes in Floripa on Facebook.
Before finishing this article, an important advice: even though the expatriate and digital nomad community in Florianópolis are growing, it would be a wasted opportunity to restrict your social meetups only with fellow foreigners.
Meet the locals too! Brazilian people are very social, and the catarinenses are no different, even though other Brazilians make jokes with the smugness about their land.
Since their island is one of the most beautiful places in the country, who can blame them? ☺
Author: Levi Borba, founder of Colligere Expat Consultancy, former RM specialist for the world´s greatest airline. Co-founder of Nearby Airport Hostel Warsaw and author of the books Budget Travelers, Digital Nomads & Expats: The Ultimate Guide: 50 Tips, Tricks, Hacks and Ways to Free Stuff & Cheaper Flights in a Practical Guide to Travel Plans and Moving Out, Living Abroad and Keeping Your Sanity.